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Journal of Applied Social Psychology 2013, 43, pp. 15081517

Online communication and social well-being: how playing World of Warcraft affects players social competence and loneliness
Mandy Visser, Marjolijn L. Antheunis, Alexander P. Schouten
Tilburg Center for Cognition and Communication, Tilburg University

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mandy Visser, Tilburg University, Warandelaan 2, P.O. Box 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands. E-mail: mandy.visser@tilburguniversity.edu doi: 10.1111/jasp.12144

Abstract
This study was designed to examine the effects of playing the online game World of Warcraft (WoW) on adolescents social competence and loneliness, and to investigate the underlying mechanisms of the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis. The hypothesis states that being online affects adolescents social competence as a result of a variety of communication partners and identity experiments online. A survey was conducted among 790 high school students. There appeared to be no direct effect between playing WoW and adolescents social competence and loneliness. We did nd an indirect effect via variety of communication partners. Adolescents who play WoW vary more in their communication partners, leading to an increase of social competence and a decrease of loneliness.

More than 90% of Western adolescents from ages 11 to 17 years are frequent users of the Internet (Pew Internet, 2010) and spend an average of 10 hours per week on online activities (Ofcom.org, 2010). In several Western countries, more than 30% of these Internet users play online games on a daily basis (Ofcom.org, 2010; Pew Internet, 2010). Societal concerns about the amount of time adolescents spend playing Internet games are increasing. Spending time in this medium is considered harmful for adolescents, because they would be living their lives on the Internet instead of in the real world. Therefore, this could be harmful for their social lives. These concerns about gaming are frequently explained and supported by studies that investigate adolescents online behavior (Caplan, 2005; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Harman, Hansen, Cochran, & Lindsey, 2005; Kraut, Patterson, & Lundmark, 1998). Spending time online means that you cannot spend that time ofine; for example, practicing social skills. Practicing social skills is important because young people need to develop skills as social beings (Gresham & Nagle, 1980). Therefore, spending a great deal of time on the Internet leads to a stagnation of social competence. This assertion is a pessimistic variant of Valkenburg and Peters (2008) Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis, which states that being online has an inuence on the social competence of adolescents. The Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis has a positive variant as well, which states that spending time
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on the Internet can increase social competence. The main reason adolescents use the Internet is for social purposes (Subrahmanyam & Greeneld, 2008; Williams et al., 2006; Yee, 2006). They are online to chat, visit social network sites, and play games with other Internet users. According to the positive variant of the hypothesis, the social use of the Internet gives adolescents the opportunity to practice their social skills by experimenting with their identity and talking with a variety of people. This should positively affect their social competence (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). Moreover, being online provides a range of communication platforms where social interaction is possible. It is easy for adolescents on the Internet to get in touch with others (Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Subrahmanyam & Greeneld, 2008). Instead of becoming alienated from the world, the Internet could broaden their social world (Matsuba, 2006). Besides the assumption that spending time online has an inuence on the social competence of adolescents, there is also consensus that being online has effects on another aspect of the well-being of adolescents. Spending time online could result in loneliness because the time that is spent online could also be spent ofine, with real people instead of on a computer (Caplan, 2005, 2007; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Matsuba, 2006). Based on the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008), the relationship between being online and loneliness can also be considered positive. The Internet has several features that make social
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interaction online easier than in real life (Lo, Wang, & Fang, 2005; McKenna & Bargh, 2000). Online social interaction is anonymous, interactive, and has no boundaries. An adolescent can have social interaction and build friendships on the Internet (Antheunis, Valkenburg, & Peter, 2007, 2010; Ducheneaut & Moore, 2005; Subrahmanyam & Greeneld, 2008). This online social interaction can replace disability of social interaction in real life. Therefore, adolescents who have online social interaction may be less lonely (Yee, 2006). Previous studies that have investigated the relationship between the Internet and the social competence and loneliness of adolescents have clearly focused on the negative consequences of the Internet (Caplan, 2005; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Harman et al., 2005; Kraut et al., 1998). However, these studies do not give a consistent view about the consequences of Internet use on the social competence and loneliness of adolescents (Harman et al., 2005; Matsuba, 2006; Wartella & Jennings, 2000). Results are diverse; some studies support hypotheses that state being online has a negative inuence on the social competence and loneliness of adolescents (Caplan, 2005; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Harman et al., 2005; Kraut et al., 1998), while other studies do not (Ducheneaut & Moore, 2005; Matsuba, 2006; Valkenburg & Peter, 2008; Wartella & Jennings, 2000). A reason for these inconsistent results could be that these studies have focused on general Internet use. The research area of these studies enclosed online communication in general, instead of a specic area of the Internet. Therefore, the results are diverse and sometimes inconsistent (Caplan, 2005; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Harman et al., 2005; Kraut et al., 1998; Matsuba, 2006; Valkenburg & Peter, 2008; Wartella & Jennings, 2000). The Internet comprises many diverse applications with different features, and the results could be much stronger if just one area of the Internet is taken into account (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). The rst aim of the present study is to explain the inconsistent results of earlier studies, and to gain more insight into the relationship between spending time online and the social competence and loneliness of adolescents. In our research, we decided to focus on one aspect of the Internet that is now frequently used by adolescents for its social function: the online game World of Warcraft (WoW) (Williams et al., 2006). Despite the popularity of this game, it is highly criticized in the media for the hours adolescents spend in the virtual world of this game, and the possible negative effects, such as addiction and social isolation (Peters & Malesky, 2008). WoW is by far the most popular massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) at this moment. There are more than 11 million players throughout the world who visit the virtual world of WoW on a regular basis (Bartle, 2010). WoW contains a virtual fantasy world where people from all over the world can play together at
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the same time (Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006). The most typical feature of these MMORPGs is that players must complete certain assignments, which can be violent (e.g., running a coup), but also nonviolent (e.g., trading supplies) in order to move along in the game. To complete those tasks, players must cooperate continuously, which they do this by forming guilds. Guilds are playgroups where every member has his or her own task. Guild members can communicate with each other through a non-audio instant messenger service (Ducheneaut & Moore, 2005). WoW can be seen as a highly interactive game (Schell, 2005). The interactivity of MMORPGs gives players the opportunity to communicate on a textual basis about the game, but also about other topics, such as school, hobbies, and politics. This gives an MMORPGand thereby WoW its social function for adolescents (Ducheneaut & Moore, 2005; Williams et al., 2006; Yee, 2006). The socially oriented character, next to the popularity of the game, makes WoW a suitable place to study the Internet use of adolescents and their social competence and feelings of loneliness. Another shortcoming in earlier studies is that they did not specify how use of the Internet is related to social competence. Studies have investigated the relationship between the social competence and loneliness of adolescents and their behavior on the Internet as a simple inputoutput process (Caplan, 2005; Ducheneaut & Moore, 2005; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Harman et al., 2005; Kraut et al., 1998; Matsuba, 2006; Valkenburg & Peter, 2007; Wartella & Jennings, 2000). By investigating underlying mechanisms of the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis, we want to determine if and how these mechanisms could affect the social competence and loneliness of adolescents, which might explain the inconsistent results of earlier research (Caplan, 2005; Ducheneaut & Moore, 2005; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Harman et al., 2005; Kraut et al., 1998; Matsuba, 2006; Valkenburg & Peter, 2007; Wartella & Jennings, 2000). Hence, the second aim of this study is to investigate underlying mechanisms of the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis that may cause an indirect effect on social competence and loneliness.

Direct effects
Our rst aim is to examine the direct effects of playing WoW on the social competence and loneliness of adolescents. Generally, practicing social skills and being in a social setting increases adolescents social competence (Gresham & Nagle, 1980; Hetherington, Parke, Gauvain, & Otis Locke, 2006; Van Leeuwen & Aarsen, 1994). When the online world of WoW is seen as a social setting where people meet and practice social skills, playing this game could increase social competence. Until recently, few researchers saw games like these as a social setting (Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Harman et al.,
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Effect of World of Warcraft on social well-being

2005; Schot & Selwyn, 2000). Their studies are supported by the negative variant of the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis, which states that being online has a negative inuence on social competence by spending time on the Internet, instead of practicing social skills in the real world (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). However, there are also positive ndings regarding the relationship of being online and social competence (Ducheneaut & Moore, 2005; Matsuba, 2006; Subrahmanyam & Greeneld, 2008; Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). For example, Valkenburg and Peter found that online communication can lead to an increase of social competence. Because of the inconsistency in previous research, we could not formulate a hypothesis on the effect of playing WoW on the social competence of adolescents. Therefore, we investigate the following research question: Research Question 1. What is the effect of playing WoW on the social competence of adolescents? Furthermore, in this study, we want to examine the direct effect of playing the online game on adolescents feelings of loneliness. Results on this relation are diverse. Some studies give signicant evidence for a positive effect and state that the time spent online counteracts social activities (Caplan, 2005, 2007; Ducheneaut & Moore, 2005; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Matsuba, 2006; Subrahmanyam & Greeneld, 2008). However, other studies claim that the intentions of Internet use are important (Seepersad, 2004; Valkenburg & Peter, 2008; Yee, 2006). Social intentions can create friendships online, which have follow-ups in real life. When two people meet on the Internet and become friends, they can meet in real life and continue their friendship. These inconsistent claims lead us to the following research question: Research Question 2. What is the effect of playing WoW on the loneliness of adolescents?

2000). Therefore, we want to examine if the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis also accounts for a decrease in loneliness.

Identity experiments
The rst factor that may mediate the relationship between being online and the social competence of adolescents is the opportunity for online identity experiments (Subrahmanyam & Greeneld, 2008; Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). The main reason for WoW players to play the game is its social function (Lo et al., 2005; Williams et al., 2006; Yee, 2006). Online communication on WoW has three important features over ofine communication. First, WoW provides anonymity. WoW Players can act without showing their real identity (Lo et al., 2005; McKenna & Bargh, 2000). Second, the game is interactive. Unlike in the real world, a player must interact with others. WoW players must respond to each other and cooperate to succeed (Lo et al., 2005; McKenna & Bargh, 2000). Finally, WoW has no geographical boundaries. People from all over the world play WoW. The real world is limited to the adolescents actual environment (Lo et al., 2005; McKenna & Bargh, 2000). These features form a stimulating environment for WoW players in which to experiment with their identity (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). WoW players can choose to form a character that is different from their own personality. Because of the anonymous feature of the game, they can try out different kinds of activities in various social situations. When an activity does not work out, players can adopt another game character and try again. In this way, WoW players practice their social skills, which can lead to an improvement of social competence. This view is supported by several studies about online communication (Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006; Subrahmanyam & Greeneld, 2008; Suler, 2005; Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). Considering the benecial features of the online environment of WoW, we expect that this empirical evidence on online communication in general can also be applied to playing WoW. Therefore, we formulate the following hypotheses: Hypothesis 1. Adolescents who play WoW will experiment more with their identity. Hypothesis 2. Identity experiments on WoW will enhance the social competence of adolescents.

Underlying mechanisms
The second aim of our study is to examine the underlying mechanisms between playing WoW and social competence and loneliness, based on the positive variant of the Internetaffected social compensation hypothesis. This variant states that the inuence of being online on social competence is mediated by two factors; namely, the variety of communication partners on the Internet, and online identity experiments (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). In this study, we want to investigate if this statement also counts for a specic area of the Internet (e.g., WoW). We also want to examine if the same underlying mechanisms apply for adolescents feelings of loneliness. Like social competence, loneliness is based on social interaction (Yee, 2006). The Internet has features that make social interaction easier than in real life, such as interactivity, anonymity, and having no boundaries (Lo et al., 2005; McKenna & Bargh,
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Variety of communication partners


The second factor that may mediate the relationship between being online and the social competence of adolescents is the variety of online communication partners (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). Socializing with different kinds of people is important for practicing social skills (Gresham & Nagle, 1980; Van Leeuwen & Aarsen, 1994). In this way, people evolve in various social interactions and receive more
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condence because they have more variety in their social contact. Some people who are not part of a social network cannot practice their social skills. The Internet could provide a social platform where they can meet people (Subrahmanyam & Greeneld, 2008). This enhances social skills and the way people think about themselves (McKenna & Bargh, 2000; Wartella & Jennings, 2000). WoW is a social platform where different kinds of people can gather and communicate with each other. By meeting a variety of people and communicating with them, WoW players can practice their social skills and become more socially competent. This has received empirical support in several studies. A positive correlation between being online and social competence was found by Ducheneaut and Moore (2005), McKenna and Bargh (2000), and Valkenburg and Peter (2008). Therefore, our expectations with regard to a variety of communication partners as a mediating factor are as follows: Hypothesis 3. Adolescents who play WoW will increase their variety of communication partners. Hypothesis 4. A variety of communication partners on WoW will enhance the social competence of adolescents.

Internet communicating with people they already know. This is probably because of the absence of friends in lonely adolescents ofine social life. Lonely adolescents, therefore, seem to use online platforms to experiment with their identity more than do their non-lonely peers (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). This kind of social interaction with other people can decrease feelings of loneliness (Rokach & Neto, 2000; Yee, 2006). Social interaction is the key factor of the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis. Therefore, it is likely that this hypothesis applies for decreasing loneliness as well. Considering these arguments, we expect that the Internetaffected social compensation hypothesis might also be applicable to adolescents feelings of loneliness when playing WoW. Therefore, we formulate the following hypotheses: Hypothesis 5. Identity experiments on WoW will decrease adolescents feelings of loneliness. Hypothesis 6. A variety of communication partners on WoW will decrease adolescents feelings of loneliness.

Method
Sample
In December 2008, we conducted a survey among 648 high school students. Only 15.4% (100 respondents) played WoW. Because the aim of this research is to make a comparison between WoW players and non-WoW players, we decided to administer the survey online as well. Therefore, we used a popular social network site where WoW players have their own community. Consequently, we reached 152 adolescents who played WoW. Eventually, we had a sample of 789 students (389 girls, 400 boys), of whom 241 were WoW players (30.5%) and 548 were non-WoW players (69.5%). The age of the participants ranged from 11 to 20 years (M = 14.8 years, SD = 1.8).

Loneliness and the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis


Besides these hypothesized mediating effects between playing WoW and social competence, we think that the underlying mechanisms of the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis could also affect adolescents loneliness. According to the positive variant of this hypothesis, a variety of communication partners and identity experiments lead to an increase in social competence because these underlying factors give ground to practicing social skills. This practice is enabled by social interaction with other people on the Internet (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). It is important to reveal an effect of playing online games such as WoW on adolescents feelings of loneliness, since feeling included is of crucial importance to adolescents social development (Rokach & Neto, 2000). Lonely adolescents appear to have fewer ofine social interaction and fewer friends than do their non-lonely peers (Gross, Juvonen, & Gable, 2002). Social interaction on the Internet has several features that appear to make interaction easier than in real life, like anonymity, interactivity, and having no boundaries (Lo et al., 2005; McKenna & Bargh, 2000). Therefore, online communication would be an appealing alternative for lonely adolescents social interaction. According to Gross et al. (2002), lonely adolescents often use the Internet to talk with unacquainted people, in contrast with non-lonely adolescents, who spend more time on the
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Procedure
The procedures for the online and ofine surveys were comparable to one another. In school, the students received a brief introduction on paper before completing the survey that was distributed to them. Online, the survey was introduced on the WoW community, which contained a link to the online survey. Before the online survey started, the participants received a brief online introduction. In both surveys, the introduction was the same. The introduction explained that the survey contained questions about online games and social relationships, and that they could end their participation in the study at any time. After the introduction, all respondents were asked if they wanted to participate and complete the questionnaire individually. A subsequent analysis revealed that there were no signicant differences between the
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respondents recruited in the high school and the respondents recruited online on the WoW community. We took several measures to assure the respondents condentiality and privacy. In the introduction, we emphasized that the answers would be analyzed only by us, the investigators. We also assured the respondents that their answers would be treated condentially. Finally, respondents were asked to make sure that they completed the questionnaire in private.

Table 1

Four Dimensions in Social Competence

How easy or difcult was it for you in the past six months to . . .?

Factor 1

Factor 2

Factor 3

Factor 4

Measures
Social competence We used a 19-item self-report instrument to measure adolescents ofine social competence. This instrument was designed by Valkenburg and Peter (2008) and is based on four different dimensions of social competence: initiation of (ofine) relationships, supportiveness, assertiveness, and ability to self-disclose. The exact instruction is as follows: Some teenagers nd it easy to talk and deal with people, others nd it hard. The questions below deal with how you communicated with people in the past six months. If you havent experienced these specic situations, please imagine how it would be like if you were. How easy or difcult was it in the past six months to . . . Sample items are start a new friendship, help someone when you were asked to, and tell someone that you liked her/him. Responses were rated on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (very difcult) to 5 (very easy). The four dimensions that were distinguished a priori were empirically veried in a conrmatory factor analysis (direct oblimin rotation). The items, factor loadings, and Cronbachs alphas of the scales are presented in Table 1. The four dimensions loaded on one factor and resulted in a Cronbachs alpha of .86 (M = 3.59, SD = 0.51). Loneliness We used the UCLA Loneliness Scale to measure loneliness (Russell, 1996). We decided to select 8 items for our survey that had the highest item-total correlations from the 20item Loneliness Scale, based on Valkenburg and Peters (2008) research. Responses were rated on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (very often). The 8 remaining items formed a one-dimensional scale (explained variance = 37.4%) with a Cronbachs alpha of .76 (M = 1.22, SD = 0.29). Variety of online communication partners We used 12 items, created by Valkenburg and Peter (2008) to measure the tendency of adolescents to communicate with
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Factor 1: Initiation of (ofine) relationships 1. Start a conversation with .691 someone you did not know very well 2. Introduce yourself for the .645 rst time to someone 3. Call someone whom you .586 wanted to get to know better 4. Start a new friendship .546 .384 5. Ask someone to get together and do something Factor 2: Supportiveness 6. Help others cope with an .031 unpleasant experience 7. Comfort someone who is .145 feeling down 8. Listen carefully to .189 someone who told you about a problem he or she is experiencing 9. Help someone to feel at .067 ease 10. Help someone when he .241 or she asked you Factor 3: Ability to self-disclose 11. Tell someone that he or .344 she is attractive 12. Tell someone that you .141 liked him or her 13. Tell others about things .346 you are ashamed of 14. Show your sensitive side .023 to others 15. Express your feelings to -.006 someone else Factor 4: Assertiveness 16. Stand up for yourself .129 when someone made a fool of you 17. Stand up for your rights .149 when someone wronged you 18. Stand up for yourself .150 when someone accused you of something you did not do 19. Stand up for someone .218 else who was made a fool of Cronbachs a .73 Scale means 3.67

.120

.107

.204

.156 .196

-.053 .252

.062 .155

.018 .249

.334 .216

.139 .192

.756 .700 .615

-.073 .215 .111

.066 .056 .104

.486 .484

.057 .251

.129 .166

-.086 .109 .090 .218 .288

.950 .885 .405 .272 .249

.172 .123 .226 .062 .010

.030

.137

.896

.063

.224

.860

.205

.027

.639

.233

.093

.338

.77 3.98

.77 2.88

.80 3.90

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people with different kinds of social and ethnic backgrounds. Sample items are When you are playing World of Warcraft, how often do you talk to people who (a) are older than you? (b) have a different skin color? (c) live abroad? Responses were rated on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (almost always). The items formed a one-dimensional scale (explained variance = 49.1%) with a Cronbachs alpha of .90 (M = 2.85, SD = 0.89). Online identity experiments To measure the frequency with which adolescents pretend to be someone else when playing WoW, we used a 12-item scale based on the design of Valkenburg and Peter (2008). Sample items are When you play World of Warcraft, do you ever pretend to be someone who (a) is more attractive? (b) is more intelligent? (c) is less shy? Responses were rated on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (never) to 4 (almost always). The 12 items loaded on one factor (explained variance = 47.5%) and resulted in a Cronbachs alpha of .89 (M = 1.22, SD = 0.42).

Table 2 Variable

Zero-Order Correlation Matrix 1 -.412** .155* -.189** .116** -.093* 2 3 4

1. Social competence 2. Loneliness 3. Variety of communication partners 4. Online identity experiments 5. Age 6. Gender *p < .05. **p < .01.

-.153* .270** -.032 .092*

.045 .068 -.128* .103 -.009

sometimes feel lonely. In addition, 75% stated they feel lonely almost never or never.

Zero-order correlations between study variables


The correlations between the variables are presented in a zero-order correlation matrix in Table 2. This matrix shows that social competence was positively related to the variety of communication partners on WoW, as well as to loneliness. However, social competence was negatively related to online identity experiments. Social competence and loneliness were correlated negatively. When an adolescent had high social competence, he was less lonely. Gender was related to social competence, loneliness, and the variety of communication partners on WoW. According to this study, boys have higher social competence, are less lonely, and have more variety in their communication partners on WoW than do girls. Age was related only to social competence. When adolescents became older, their social competence increased.

Results
Descriptive analyses
Of the 789 individuals who participated in our survey, 241 adolescents (30.5%) played WoW. Boys (82.6%) played the game more often than did girls (17.4%). The average time WoW players spent on the game was 16 hours per week. The participants who did not play WoW could not answer questions about the underlying mechanisms. Therefore, we only included the participants who play WoW (n = 241) to analyzing the underlying mechanisms. However, we included nonWoW players (n = 548) in our analyses to examine a direct effect of playing WoW on social competence and loneliness. About 34% of the adolescents who play WoW indicated that they sometimes or often experiment with their identity while playing the game. In addition, 66% indicated that they almost never or never experiment with their identity while playing WoW. Many players admitted to communicating with people who are different than themselves. When answering the questions about the variety of communication partners, almost every WoW player (96.7%) stated that he or she sometimes, often, or always talks with a variety of people on WoW. Only 3.3% of all WoW players indicated that they almost never or never talk with people with different social or ethnic backgrounds or ages. All respondents answered the questions about social competence and loneliness (N = 789). The perceived social competence of the respondents was very high (M = 3.60, SD = 0.50, on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 to 5). More than half of the respondents scored a mean value of 4 or 5. Finally, about one quarter of the respondents indicated that they
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Testing the direct effects


The rst aim of this study was to examine a possible direct effect between playing WoW and social competence and loneliness. The answer to Research Question 1 regarding whether playing WoW has a direct effect on adolescents social competence was obtained by comparing the two means of WoW players and non-WoW players on their level of social competence. Results of the independent t-test shows that there was no signicant difference in social competence between WoW players and non-WoW players (WoW players: M = 3.62, SD = 0.56; non-WoW players: M = 3.60, SD = 0.49), t(759) = 0.62, ns. However, effects could also be found by looking at the amount of time a player spends on WoW and social competence. Therefore, we conducted a regression analysis. The results show that there is no signicant direct effect of the amount of time playing WoW on adolescents social competence (B = .01; SE = .00; b = .12, ns). Research Question 2 asked if there is a direct effect of playing WoW on loneliness. Again, the results of an
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independent t test show that there was no difference in the level of loneliness between WoW players (M = 1.27, SD = 0.62) and non-WoW players (M = 1.20, SD = 0.54), t(779) = 1.62, ns. Furthermore, there was no signicant effect of time spent playing WoW on loneliness (B = .00; SE = .00; b = -.05, ns). This means that there was no direct relation between playing WoW and loneliness.

Testing the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis: social competence


The second aim of our study was to examine the underlying mechanisms between playing WoW and social competence and loneliness, based on the positive variant of the Internetaffected social compensation hypothesis (for a path diagram of both models, see Figures 1 and 2). We tested the hypothesized model with structural equation modeling (SEM) using AMOS 18.0. Two indexes were used to evaluate the t of our model: root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) and comparative t index (CFI). Particularly in the case of large samples, these indexes are considered as informative criteria in SEM (Byrne, 2001). A reasonable model t is expressed in an RMSEA value less than .06 and a CFI value

= .23***

Variety of communication partners

= .12*

Amount of time playing WoW

Social competence

= .06, ns

Online identity experiments

= -.20**

Figure 1 Playing WoW and underlying mechanisms: social competence. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

= .23***

Variety of communication partners

= -.17**

Amount of time playing WoW

Loneliness

greater than .90 (Byrne, 2001). Our hypothesized model t the data well, c2(2, N = 241) = 2.85 p = .24 (CFI = .964; RMSEA = .042; 90% condence interval [CI] = .000.142). Hypothesis 1 predicted that playing WoW would increase online identity experiments of adolescents during the game. The results show that there was no relation between the amount of time spent playing WoW and identity experiments (b = .06, ns). This means that the amount of time of playing WoW did not lead to more identity experiments. Hypothesis 2 predicted that online identity experiments would lead to an increase of social competence. This hypothesis was not supported, either. Experimenting with identity correlated signicantly negatively with social competence (b = -.20, p < .01). This means that identity experiments on WoW did not lead to higher social competence, indicating no support for our second hypothesis. Because there was no relationship between time spent on WoW and identity experiments, there could be no mediating effect of identity experiments between playing WoW and social competence. According to Hypothesis 3, playing WoW should increase the variety of communication partners on WoW. The results support this hypothesis (b = .23, p < .001). The amount of time spent playing WoW had a signicant positive relationship with variety of communication partners. Therefore, our third hypothesis was supported. Hypothesis 4 stated that a variety of communication partners would enhance social competence. This hypothesis was supported. There was, indeed, a signicant positive relation between the variety of communication partners and the social competence of adolescents who play WoW (b = .12, p < .05). Based on these results, we can state that a variety of communication partners would enhance social competence. To test the signicance of this indirect effect, we applied bootstrapping procedures using AMOS 18.0. This involved generating 20,000 random bootstrap samples with replacement from the dataset (N = 241) and testing the model 20,000 times with these samples. This allows a mean mediation affect to be estimated, along with 90% bias-corrected condence intervals (BCIs) for the estimates. The signicance of the mean mediation effect is indicated by whether the value of 0 falls within or outside this condence interval. If it falls outside, the indirect effect is signicant. The 90% BCI for this indirect effect was estimated to lie between .003 and .066. Because 0 is not in this condence interval, the indirect effect was signicantly different from 0.

= .06, ns

Online identity experiments

= .28

Testing the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis: loneliness


Furthermore, we formulated two hypotheses about loneliness and the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis. We expected that the two underlying mechanisms (i.e., identity experiments, variety of communication partners)
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Figure 2 Playing WoW and underlying mechanisms: loneliness. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
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would also mediate the relationship between WoW and loneliness. The hypothesized model t the data well, c2(2, N = 241) = 0.40, p = .82 (CFI = 1.000; RMSEA = .000; 90% CI = .000.077). Hypothesis 5 predicted that identity experiments would lead to a decrease of loneliness. The model shows that there was a signicant effect (b = .28, p < .001). This means that identity experiments led to an increase of loneliness. However, according to our results, playing WoW does not lead to an increase in identity experiments, contrary to Hypothesis 1. Thus, there could be no effect of playing WoW on loneliness, mediated by online identity experiments. Finally, Hypothesis 6 proposed that a variety of communication partners on WoW would decrease adolescents feelings of loneliness. It appears that loneliness decreased when an adolescent has more variety in his communication partners (b = -.17, p < .01). Furthermore, it appears that playing WoW increases the variety of communication partners on WoW, as supported in Hypothesis 3, which suggests an indirect effect. To test the signicance of this indirect effect, we applied bootstrapping procedures. The 90% BCI for this indirect effect was estimated to lie between -.072 and -.015. Because 0 is not in this condence interval, the indirect effect was signicantly different from 0.

Discussion
In the present study, we examined the relationship between playing the online game WoW and adolescents social competence and loneliness. We also focused on indirect effects by exploring some underlying mechanisms, according to the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis. This hypothesis states that being online has an effect on peoples social competence as a result of social interaction on the Internet (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). The rst aim of our study was to examine if playing WoW affects adolescents social competence and loneliness directly. According to our results, there were no direct effects of playing WoW on social competence and loneliness. It appears that adolescents who play WoW do not differ signicantly in their social competence and loneliness, compared to adolescents who do not play this online game. This means that playing WoW does not have a positive inuence; however, it does not have a negative inuence on social competence and loneliness, either. This nding is different from past studies (Caplan, 2005, 2007; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Harman et al., 2005; Matsuba, 2006; Schot & Selwyn, 2000). Moreover, the amount of time an adolescent spends on WoW has no relation with his or her social competence and loneliness. This contradicts the pessimistic variant of the social compensation hypothesis, which states that being online has a negative inuence on adolescents social compe 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

tence and loneliness (Caplan, 2005; Engelberg & Sjberg, 2004; Harman et al., 2005; Kraut et al., 1998). Our study shows that the concerns and the overall negative paradigm about online games should be re-evaluated in light of social competence and loneliness. According to our study, we can conclude that there seems to be no direct effect of playing WoW on the social competence and loneliness of adolescents. The second aim of our study was to examine underlying mechanisms of the relationship between playing WoW and social competence and loneliness, according to the Internetaffected social compensation hypothesis. According to our results, it appears that online identity experiments are not a mediating factor in the relationship between playing WoW and social competence and loneliness. The amount of time spent playing WoW did not increase identity experiments. Moreover, identity experiments did not have an effect on the social competence of WoW players. Our results about the underlying mechanisms of a possible indirect effect contradict the ndings of Valkenburg and Peter (2008), who examined these mechanisms based on their positive variant of the Internet-affected social compensation hypothesis. They stated that online communication results in an increase in social competence as a result of an increase in the variety of communication partners and the increase in identity experiments. A possible explanation for our results inconsistency with the study of Valkenburg and Peter (2008) is our focus on one specic Internet application; namely, WoW. Valkenburg and Peter used multiple applications of the Internet where young people communicate. Another explanation for our studys inconsistency with Valkenburg and Peters results is that the game element of WoW is more important than is the social element of the game. This could lead to a different use of identity experiments, the rst underlying mechanism that might facilitate an indirect effect of playing WoW on the social competence and loneliness of adolescents, according to the social compensation hypothesis. When a WoW player pretends to be someone else, it could be a strategic move to inuence the outcome of the game (Schell, 2005). Therefore, we think identity experiments in WoW are different, for example, from identity experiments in chatrooms, where experiments are mostly used to explore identities (Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006; Suler, 2005; Valkenburg & Peter, 2008). The second underlying mechanism that might facilitate an indirect effect of playing WoW on the social competence and loneliness of adolescents, according to the social compensation hypothesis, is the variety of communication partners. In line with other research (Valkenburg & Peter, 2008), our study shows the validity of this mediating factor. It appears that people who spend more time playing WoW have more variety in their communication partners. Moreover, our hypothesis that a variety of communication partners would increase
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Effect of World of Warcraft on social well-being

social competence was supported. In the present study, we found that variety in communication partners indeed facilitates an indirect effect between playing WoW and social competence. Furthermore, we examined the relationship between online communication and loneliness. The present study showed that the variety of communication partners did have a negative effect on loneliness. People who communicate with a variety of people in WoW are less lonely, which, in turn, enhances social well-being. Moreover, the decrease in loneliness had a positive relation with the social well-being of adolescents. However, online identity experiments also had a positive relationship with feelings of loneliness. This means that people who experiment more with their identity feel lonelier. As stated earlier, this result can be from the possible strategic meaning of identity experiments in WoW. Therefore, identity experiments do not have a function for social development. Although our study sheds new light on the relationship between online gaming and social competence and its underlying mechanisms, we recognize that our study has some limitations. First, the direct effects that we found were relatively small. It is possible that our sample of 241 WoW players was too small to nd signicant effects. It could also be that we read too much into our null ndings regarding the direct effects of playing WoW. Therefore, we recommend that future research use larger sample sizes to examine such small effects. Second, we used a cross-sectional design, rather than an experimental or longitudinal design. Although we based our hypotheses on previous theories and research (which have established a clear causal direction for several of our relationships), our results, which are based on cross-sectional data, cannot preclude the possibility of reversed causal relationships.According to Baym, Zhang, and Lin (2004) using online communication might attract adolescents with a certain degree of social competence. Therefore, longitudinal research to examine causal relationships might be more suitable. Moreover, to examine a complex construct like social competence, an experimental design might t better. In this way, expression and perception of nonverbal behavior could be studied, which are imperative domains of social competence, but could not be studied by using self-report questionnaires. However, experimental and longitudinal studies require considerable time and are expensive. Furthermore, the eld of research on online gaming (particularly MMORPGs) is still young. Conducting experimental and

longitudinal studies before establishing basic relationships seems very risky. By conducting the present study, we found some interesting results concerning the relationship between online gaming and social competence. Therefore, we recommend that future research focus on the possibility of reversed causal relationships. Third, we did not study players motivation in this research. Although we based our hypotheses on different studies that have stated that the main motivation for adolescents to play online games is their social function, we should have considered that there might be game-based motives as well. Changing ones identity can be a strategic move (Schell, 2005). Therefore, it is not necessarily expedient for social development, which we unfortunately underestimated in the present study. However, we found some important relationships between online gaming and social competence and loneliness, setting aside WoW players motivations. Studying the motivations could be an interesting topic for future study. With the present study, we showed that playing online games like WoW might be benecial for adolescents. However, this is only for improving social competence and reducing loneliness by meeting different kinds of people. Our research did not study other effects of playing online games, such as health-related effects. Therefore, more research is needed to provide a clear view of the overall effects of playing online games like WoW. Nevertheless, in processing the present results, we can conclude that the pessimistic variant of the social compensation hypothesis should be reconsidered. Playing WoW does not decrease social competence and does not increase loneliness. Moreover, we can state that a variety of communication partners is an underlying mechanism in the relationship between online communication and social competence and loneliness. Our ndings suggest that WoW players gain their social competence and decrease their loneliness by the variety of communication partners they have. Furthermore, nonplayers probably gain their social competence and decrease their loneliness in other settings than online games. Online identity experiments appear not to be an underlying mechanism. This could be explained by the nature of WoW. Despite its largely social function, WoW is still a game. This might be the reason for the disposition of identity experiments. We recommend further research in spending time online and the social competence and loneliness of adolescents in other applications of the Internet, where there is not such a competitive atmosphere as in WoW.

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